Seoul and Beijing continued sparring over Chinese Ambassador Xing Haiming’s recent controversial remarks, with President Yoon Suk Yeol questioning whether the envoy “has an attitude of mutual respect or friendship befitting a diplomat,” according to multiple sources Tuesday.
Yoon reportedly made the remarks at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday morning during the closed-door portion of the meeting, suggesting that the ongoing diplomatic row between Seoul and Beijing over the ambassador’s recent criticism of Korea’s foreign policy amid flaring Sino-U.S. tensions could escalate further.
Officials who took part in the meeting told Yonhap News Agency that Yoon also said that “the Korean people are displeased with Ambassador Xing’s inappropriate behavior.”
Seoul is waiting for Beijing to “take the appropriate measure” following Xing’s controversial remarks, a senior presidential official told reporters later Tuesday.
The official pointed out that the ambassador’s actions ran contrary to diplomatic protocol and logic, noting that diplomats are required to abide by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The convention stipulates that diplomats have a duty to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving country and not interfere in the internal affairs of their host country.
During a Thursday meeting with Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung, Xing said in a speech in front of reporters that “some are betting that the United States will win and China will lose,” and warned that “those who now bet on China’s defeat will surely regret it later.”
Xing’s remarks, which have been interpreted as a warning to Seoul against siding with Washington over Beijing, quickly ignited a huge political storm in Korea, with some lawmakers in the conservative People Power Party (PPP) calling it the “worst diplomatic disaster” the country has faced.
The remarks led to both countries’ foreign ministries summoning their top envoys to lodge protests.
Lim Soo-suk, a spokesman of the Korean Foreign Ministry, said in a press briefing Tuesday afternoon that the problem with Xing’s remarks “lies in intentionally criticizing our government’s policy with inaccurate information.”
In a press briefing Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin didn’t immediately respond to the Korean government’s request for “appropriate action” against Xing.
He instead expressed “regret” over recent Korean news reports on Xing, including allegations that the ambassador received free accommodation at a luxury resort operated by a Chinese company in Korea.
Wang said it was Xing’s duty “to engage and interact with various figures from different circles” in Korea as a diplomat and enhance understanding and promote cooperation.
It is interpreted that China virtually rejected the Korean government’s request for action against Xing.
When asked about Beijing’s response, another presidential official told reporters later Tuesday, “I believe our Foreign Ministry will respond appropriately to the position issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.”
The official however didn’t elaborate further on if appropriate action demanded by Korea means the replacement of Xing as ambassador to Seoul.
“Korea-China relations have always been conducted with the principles of mutual respect, promotion of friendship and pursuit of common interests,” he added.
On Monday, the presidential office gave its first remarks on the controversy. A presidential official told reporters regarding Xing that if an ambassador’s “bridging role is not done appropriately, it may harm the national interests of the host country, as well as that of the home country.”
The White House National Security Council in turn referred to Xing’s remarks as a “pressure tactic,” highlighting that Seoul is a “terrific ally” that has the right to make foreign policy decisions deemed appropriate on its own.
“It certainly appears as if there was some sort of pressure tactic here used,” said John Kirby, a U.S. National Security Council spokesman, in a press briefing Monday in Washington. “South Korea is a sovereign, independent nation; a terrific ally; and a great friend not just in the region, but around the world. And they have every right to make the kinds of foreign-policy decisions they deem are appropriate.”
He had been asked by a reporter if Xing’s comment that South Korea would “regret” siding with the United States was an attempt to retaliate against Seoul.
BY MICHAEL LEE, SARAH KIM [email@example.com]